It is one matter to acknowledge that much in American society today is deserving of contempt. It is another matter to propose that the role of the U.S. military—especially an all-volunteer professional military oriented toward conservative Republicanism—is to fix those problems. Yet that is what some are doing. "It is no longer enough for Marines to 'reflect' the society they defend," Michael Wyly, a retired colonel, advised in the March, 1995, issue of the Marine Corps Gazette. "They must lead it, not politically but culturally. For it is the culture we are defending."
In some ways this is nothing new. The military can be seen as just reverting to its pre-Second World War and pre-Cold War stances—socially isolated, politically conservative, and working primarily on bases in the South and West. In The Professional Soldier, Janowitz wrote, "Military ideology has maintained a disapproval of the lack of order and respect for authority which it feels characterizes civilian society. . . . In the past most professional soldiers even felt that the moral fibre of American manpower was 'degenerating' and might not be able to withstand the rigors of battle."
There are two important differences between today's military and the military before the Second World War. First, it is far larger—some six times the size of the 244,000-man active-duty military of 1933. (Over the same period the U.S. population has merely doubled in size.) Second, it is frequently used as an instrument of national policy, as it was with the recent large deployments to Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Possibly a third major difference is its quality: for the first time in the nation's history the U.S. military is generally regarded as the best in the world. If, as now appears likely, it is cut significantly over the next ten years, frustrated officers may be more politically direct in expressing their resentment than they were in the past. It would be surprising if all were to adopt the stance of General Omar Bradley, who in a passage quoted by Janowitz commented, "Thirty-two years in the peacetime army had taught me to do my job, hold my tongue, and keep my name out of the papers."
CHANGES IN SOCIETY
There is widespread agreement that over the past few decades American society has become more fragmented, more individualistic, and less disciplined, with institutions such as church, family, and school wielding less influence. Whatever the implications of these changes, they put society at odds with the classic military values of sacrifice, unity, self-discipline, and considering the interests of the group before those of the individual.
The split is all the deeper because the military has effectively addressed the two great plagues of American society, drug abuse and racial tension, but civilian society has not. In addition, the military is doing a better job in other areas where society is faltering, including education. The Army especially has done well with the growth of realistic training at facilities such as the National Training Center, the Joint Readiness Training Center, and the Combat Maneuver Training Center, where soldiers live in the field and conduct bloodless battles against well-trained opponents. Younger enlisted soldiers and Marines frequently exude an air of competence that is rare in today's eighteen- and nineteen-year-old civilians. Local military recruiters report that they no longer recruit from certain high schools, because so few of the graduates of those schools are able to pass the military entrance examination—the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a simple test of reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. The result of this selectivity is that the military is now far better educated than the general population: about 96 percent of recruits in 1995, for example, earned high school diplomas, as compared with 79 percent of civilians aged eighteen to twenty-four. Indeed, about 40 percent of all officers now hold postgraduate degrees.